Photo/IllutrationPrime Minister Shinzo Abe responds to questions in the prime minister’s office in Tokyo on July 3 over the results of the Tokyo metropolitan assembly election held the previous day. (Takeshi Iwashita)

  • Photo/Illustraion

The Liberal Democratic Party's disastrous defeat in the Tokyo metropolitan assembly election on July 2 is expected to undermine Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's leadership and increase uncertainty over his key policy goals, such as constitutional amendment.

“An extremely severe judgment was rendered by the people of Tokyo. We have to seriously accept it as a strict rebuke of the LDP and deeply reflect (on our acts and remarks),” said Abe, who is also the LDP president, at the prime minister’s office on July 3.

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike’s new local party and other parties backing her won a majority in the 127-seat Tokyo metropolitan assembly.

The scandal- and gaffe-ridden LDP came away with only 23 seats, where it held 57 seats before the poll.

Koike's Tomin First no Kai (Tokyo residents first association) won 49 seats and Komeito, which sided with the party, gained 23 seats. Six independents who ran under the endorsement of Tomin First no Kai also won their seats and joined Koike's party after the election.

As for the causes of the LDP's defeat, Abe said, “Nearly five years have passed since my current administration started. In such a situation, I think that there was harsh criticism that the Abe administration is losing its sincere stance.”

Regarding possible fallout on the national level, Abe said, “We must not allow national politics to stall. While reflecting on what we have to reflect, we have to steadily proceed with what we have to do.”

On election night on July 2, the prime minister gathered in a French restaurant in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward with other party veterans, including Finance Minister Taro Aso and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga.

In the gathering, the participants shared an understanding that Abe is not directly responsible for the party's crushing defeat.

However, the setback sent shock waves through LDP lawmakers because the Tokyo metropolitan assembly election was seen as a referendum on the manner in which the Abe administration is pursuing its policies and has dealt with recent scandals.

Prior to the election, the Abe administration railroaded the anti-conspiracy bill through the Diet. It also stubbornly fought the opposition parties’ demands to clarify doubts over the establishment of a veterinary medicine faculty by the Kake Educational Institution, whose head is a close friend of Abe.

Those controversies and scandal contributed to a drop in the Abe Cabinet's support rate.

LDP lawmaker Mayuko Toyota’s verbal and physical abuse of her aides was also reported in the media, forcing her to leave the party.

In addition, a paper describing Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Koichi Hagiuda’s “instruction” to the education ministry in relation to the Kake scandal was revealed.

Defense Minister Tomomi Inada, who is close to Abe, made a problematic remark in her June 27 speech in support of an LDP candidate during the campaign.

“I ask for your support on behalf of the Defense Ministry and the Self-Defense Forces,” she said in the speech. The remark is problematic because public servants, including Cabinet members, must be politically neutral.

The suspicion of political contributions from the Kake Educational Institution to Hakubun Shimomura, the head of the LDP’s Tokyo metropolitan chapter, who is also close to Abe, surfaced during the end of the campaign.

Citing the names of the four lawmakers, a former Cabinet member said, “THIS is the cause of defeat.” T, H, I and S stand for Toyota, Hagiuda, Inada and Shimomura, respectively.

Following the defeat in the metropolitan assembly races, Shimomura resigned as the head of the LDP’s Tokyo metropolitan chapter on July 3.

The disastrous defeat will likely adversely impact the LDP’s efforts to work out the draft of the revised Constitution that Abe wants to realize as early as possible.

Abe wants to submit the draft to the extraordinary Diet session to be held in autumn this year and propose the revised Constitution to the public in 2018 to hold a national referendum. However, the timetable is now uncertain.

It is also uncertain if Abe will win a third term in the LDP presidential election, to be held in September 2018.

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, who is seen as one of the candidates to succeed Abe, said of the July 2 poll, “We have to accept the defeat seriously.”

Another candidate, Shigeru Ishiba, former state minister in charge of local revitalization, said, “(The defeat shows that) there was a backlash against the LDP.”

Intraparty competition to replace Abe is expected to intensify among Kishida, Ishiba and others including Seiko Noda, former chairwoman of the LDP’s General Council.

The Abe administration is considering reshuffling the Cabinet and LDP executives in August at the earliest.

Some executives of the LDP, including a former prime minister, held a meeting on July 3 in which they shared a recognition that the LDP cannot avoid holding deliberations over the Kake scandal and other issues while the Diet is not in session.